Captive parrots seem to enjoy video chatting with their friends on Messenger

Parrots are social creatures by nature. In captivity, where they don’t normally interact with a herd, it can present some real challenges to keeping them happy and healthy. But recent research suggests that technology can help meet their social needs. A Led by researchers at University of Glasgow and Northeastern University compared the responses of parrots given the option to video chat with other birds via Meta’s Messenger and watch pre-recorded videos. And they seem to have prioritized real-time conversations.

The research builds on the findings of a series of smaller studies over the past few years, in which the team trained pet parrots to make video calls to each other (with human assistance) and to play tablet games. Recently, nine parrot owners were given pills to set their pets up, and they were then monitored over six months. During that time, the parrots — who initially got to know each other via video chat — were able to engage in calls with each other for up to three hours in a total of 12 sessions. Half of these sessions consisted of pre-recorded videos, and the other half were live Messenger video chats.

Their keepers, who recorded the sessions, reported that the birds were more engaged during direct interactions. They initiated more calls in those scenarios, and spent more time on average with the birds on the other end.

In each session, the parrots were allowed to make up to two calls, and the researchers found that those who chatted on Messenger reached this limit 46 percent of the time, which was half of those who watched pre-recorded videos. Collectively, they spent 561 minutes video-chatting on Messenger, compared to just 142 minutes watching pre-recorded videos.

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„Indeed the appearance of 'liveness’ seemed to make a difference in parrots’ engagement with their displays” Dr. Ileana Hirskij-Douglas said, although noting that further study is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. „Their behavior when interacting with another live bird often mimics behaviors they engage in with other parrots in real life, which is not the case in pre-recorded sessions.” However, keepers often find that both live and pre-recorded calls have a positive effect on the birds.

„The Internet has great potential for animals to communicate in new ways, but the systems we create to do so must be designed around their specific needs and physical and mental abilities,” said Dr. Hirsky-Douglas. „Studies like this will help lay the foundation for a truly animal-centric Internet.”

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